NBC Bay Area News: Suspect in Northern California farm shootings reportedly confesses, claims he was not in his right mind
By Aya Elamroussi, Taylor Romine and Paradise Afshar, CNN
Chunli Zhao, the farmworker accused of carrying out two shootings on farms in Northern California earlier this week, admitted to killing seven people and injuring one other, NBC Bay Area News reported.
Monday’s mass killings stunned the coastal city of Half Moon Bay, becoming the deadliest attack in San Mateo County against the backdrop of carnage from other mass shootings in California over the past week.
Zhao spoke in Mandarin with NBC Bay Area’s Janelle Wang face-to-face Thursday at the San Mateo County Jail in Redwood City, California, the news outlet reported.
During the 15-minute interview, Zhao said he wasn’t in his right mind and didn’t know “what was happening mentally” when the shootings occurred Monday afternoon, Wang said. The suspect expressed remorse and said he regrets the attacks.
Zhao worked on one of the mushroom farms where he’s suspected of fatally shooting four of his coworkers. He was also a former employee of the other nearby farm where he’s accused of killing three former colleagues, San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said, who characterized the shootings as instances of workplace violence based on evidence.
The 66-year-old Chinese citizen said he has been in the US for about 11 years and has a green card, Wang reported. He also said he had undergone years of bullying and many work-related concerns, Wang said.
Zhao said he was overworked, and his work condition concerns were not addressed after informing his employer, Wang said. His workplace, California Terra Gardens, previously told CNN in a statement that they have good living conditions and benefits.
Zhao also told the reporter he believes he has some type of mental illness and that he has struggled with it for a while.
CNN has not been able to confirm independently what Zhao said in the interview and has reached out to his attorneys for comment.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that he could not go into the details of the case, but he noted the comments Zhao made to the local news outlet are “consistent with what he told law enforcement.” CNN has reached out to the district attorney for comment.
Zhao is currently being held without bail as he faces seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder related to the crimes — one of three mass shootings in a three-day period the state has been mourning this week.
Hours after the shooting, Half Moon Bay Vice Mayor Joaquin Jimenez lamented the infiltration of gun violence into his community.
“This is something that we get to watch on the news. Never think that it’s gonna come and hit home,” Jimenez said. “Today, we are the news.”
California Assemblymember Marc Berman said workplace and relationship disagreements happen all over the world.
“But it’s only in the United States where far too often those disagreements end in mass shootings,” he added.
Three days before the shootings in Half Moon Bay, a gunman opened fire in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park at a dance studio, killing 11 people during Lunar New Year celebrations. The shooter was found dead from a self-inflicted wound a day later in the nearby city of Torrance.
Mere hours after the shootings in Half Moon Bay, five people were shot, including an 18-year-old man who did not survive Monday in Oakland.
In roughly 44 hours, 19 people were killed in mass shootings in California this week alone, as gun violence continues to shatter the sense of safety in conventional settings in the US.
“I feared two days ago that Monterey Park would give way to other headlines. Little did I know I’d be up here,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday as he spoke from Half Moon Bay. “Meanwhile, the trauma and the damage the devastation is felt for generations in some cases — communities being torn asunder, no one feeling safe.”
In Half Moon Bay, the victims have been identified as Yetao Bing, 43, Qizhong Cheng, 66, Marciano Martinez Jimenez, 50, Aixiang Zhang, 74, Jingzhi Lu, 64, and Zhishen Liu, 73, according to the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office.
The seventh victim was tentatively identified, but the office is withholding naming publicly pending positive identification and the notification of the next of kin.
As the investigation continues into the shooting, details about Zhao have emerged this week.
Although he was not known to local law enforcement, Zhao was accused of trying to suffocate and threatening to kill a former coworker at another job nearly a decade ago, according to court records obtained by CNN.
He was also subject to a temporary restraining order after a former coworker and roommate accused him of attacking and threatening him in 2013, the records show.
When police arrested Zhao following the shootings, he appeared to comply with officers and was taken without incident after driving to a San Mateo County Sheriff’s substation in Half Moon Bay to surrender.
Before his arrest, Zhao said he waited a couple of hours until he noticed a law enforcement official looking at his car and taking notes. Zhao was arrested minutes later after law enforcement surrounded his vehicle, Wang said.
The suspect told Wang he purchased the gun used in the shooting in 2021 and didn’t encounter issues obtaining it at a store, she said.
The gun Zhao allegedly used is a Ruger semiautomatic firearm, according to Wagstaffe, the county’s district attorney. He was not known to local law enforcement prior to the shootings.
Zhao’s arraignment is scheduled for February 16.
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CNN’s Casey Tolan, Curt Devine, Stella Chan, Kevin Flower, Veronica Miracle, Paul Vercammen and Samira Jafari contributed to this report.